Tour de France 1998-2014: Defining Images

During my time doing the whole graphical top ten malarky (see elsewhere on the site), I got a bit fed up of seeing each Tour as a bunch of lines and tried to offset this by looking at images of those races. That gave me an idea to try and think up a defining image for each race, which is what you see below. They are by no means perfect – condensing a three week, 90 hour rollercoaster tale of drama and intrigue into a single frame is bound to leave plenty out and untold, but hey, I tried. Perhaps there can be a “highly commended” section later on. In the meantime, here’s what I came up with – feel free to tell me how very wrong I am!

Please also excuse the overly flowery lingual attempts to be a bit deep about them…

1998 Tour de France


It was a tricky choice between this and the image of Pantani sitting on the ground during the riders protest of the stage to Semnoz, that was eventually neutralised. In the end, I figured this more positive image was required, as frankly you could claim every Tour’s defining image was doping related and its nice to be a bit more pleasant. So here is Pantani, pushing away on that classic Bianchi, yellow tyres, the bandana, his hands on the drops. Attacking on the Galibier to distance Ullrich (In yellow, behind), Pantani would pull 9 minutes ahead by the end of the day. This is the moment of the Tour winning attack, of the attack that won the Giro-Tour double, of the attack that cemented the legend of Marco Pantani into the history books.

1999 Tour de France


This image is a juxtaposition of sorts – in one viewing it shows Lance Armstrong, the cancer survivor, looking to the heavens as if thanking them for his new found glory, having conquered Sestrieres, clad in yellow, and beaten the doubters to provide the miracle of a comeback from a life threatening disease. For others, the gloom and weather that surround the American in a pathetic fallacy of the gathering problems of the next seven years. Armstrong is alone in the picture – a dominant figure, the man that captured the imagination of not just cycling fans, but the world with this victory.

2000 Tour de France


The new Millennium saw the race return to the slopes of the Ventoux, and whilst the return to the race of men like Ullrich and Pantani couldn’t shake Armstrong from the title, they did at least provide some excitement along the way. Armstrong won pretty easily again, but it was the Ventoux that shone out as the key moment – a mountain he would never conquer in first place, and that he would claim to regret “giving” the victory away to, to Pantani. Some choice insults about Pantani followed, and the Italian was predictably not best pleased, and basically went into self destruct mode, winning the stage to Courchevel in what was essentially an attempt to make Armstrong blow up. It failed, with Pantani eventually withdrawing. The pair had added to the legend of the Ventoux, and inflated their own tales.

2001 Tour de France


“The Look” is the moment concentrated on most often at the 2001 Tour, and it was a masterclass in psychological manipulation. After hanging off the back of the lead group all day, forcing Ullrich’s Telekom team to take up the pace in the fevered hope of dropping him, Lance Armstrong arrived at Alpe d’Huez and revealed his deception by gazing into the sunglasses of Ullrich, turning and accelerating away without a look back. It epitomized Armstrong’s confidence and mastery of mind games, and it crushed Ullrich into losing 1:59.

2002 Tour de France


Not the most interesting Tour in the face of it – Ullrich was absent, and it was left to Joseba Beloki to challenge Armstrong. here, the American disposes of Beloki on Plateau de Beille. It it is symbolic of the workman like performance he put in, winning four stages and winning by seven minutes, 17 seconds, never really in trouble, rust riding away from those who nagged him

2003Tour de France


The 90th edition, but the hundredth anniversary of the race, was a glorious microcosm of a hundred years of the Tour. Visiting the original stage cities and baking under the European sun, it represented the closest battle Lance Armstrong had had, although he held the yellow jersey for a long time. Armstrong had a torrid time, with his form seemingly not great, and his rivals such as Jan Ullrich seemingly more confident and rejuvinated then ever. Indeed, this was half their problem – they were more interested in beating Armstrong then winning the Tour. Armstrong’s struggles were exemplified on the run in to Gap, where, under the sizzling heat, melting tar caught out Joseba Beloki on a descent, forcing Armstrong to cut across a field to avoid the stricken Spaniard. Overcoming adversity was very much the Armstrong party line, and riding across that field was the typification of the man and legend he wanted to forge.

2004 Tour de France


Armstrong’s sheer desire to triumph over the odds was encapsulated on this stage, where, aided by Floyd Landis, he chased down Andreas Kloden to pip him on the line and take yet another stage win (he won five, and the TTT) on his way to the unprecedented sixth Tour title.  After a tricky fifth win, this year was Armstrong at his most ruthless, the “no gifts” raider who took every opportunity he could get to assert his power, whether that was winning stages, or being the patron of the peloton by “dealing with” Filippo Simeoni.

2005 Tour de France


The seventh Tour win for Armstrong, and arguably the easiest, was confirmed from the moment he passed his biggest rival of those seven years, Jan Ullrich, in the first stage time trial. The domnant time trialist of that period, Armstrong deserved that number one on his back, which was the postion he would assume again at the end of the race (even if he was actually second on the stage to David Zabriske). It symbolises Armstrong’s mix of physical, symbolic and political domination of his rivals.

2006 Tour de France


A picture of some Operacion Puerto sort may have been more pertinent, but it was only really going to be about Floyd Landis. Landis looked to be following the Armstrong template to victory before cracking on La Touisuire, losing 10 minutes and seemingly the Tour, before exploding out of the blocks the next day, burning off the T-Mobile team, as seen in the picture, and soloing over every climb of the day to furiously pull himself back into contention. It was PlayStation cycling, as though a cheat code had been entered to counter a preprogrammed event, and so it turned out, but for a brief few days before we found out the truth, we were in awe at the incredible feat we had witnessed from Landis. The fact the image also shows T-Mobile, the team which had the ability to control the race and…well, just didnt, is also interesting. A picture of Jens Voigt pipping Oscar Pereiro would also have been “highly commended”, given that absurd breakaway was also key, but Landis’ epic and flawed exploit should be remembered, even if the reasons as to why are up for discusson.

2007 Tour de France


So this isn’t a picture of Contador, but then this Tour wasn’t really so much about the Spaniard as it was about rises and falls, and no one took a bigger fall (metaphorically, of course) then Michael Rasmussen, who went from taking an unassailable lead on the Col d’Aubisque, whilst in yellow, as seen in this picture, to being cast out of the race. Alexandre Vinokourov also suffered falls, literal and metaphorical, in the course of the Tour, but it was Rasmussen who was the key protagonist, taking what looked like his yearly mountain raid stage win before losing surprisingly little in the TT to show he was in the GC fight. The fact he and Contador pushed one another may well have contributed to Contador winning overall over Cadel Evans given the slim 23 second victory margin, but mainly, this image conveys the cruel beauty of the Tour, for all the joy and triumph, there are always stories bubbling away behind.

2008 Tour de France


A classic Tour was won by a classy riders nostalgic attack on the romantic climb of the Tour, Alpe d’Huez. If you could choose a way to win the Tour, it would surely be by attacking in such a way. Carlos Sastre achieved that, bottling his fine career into the 13km climb to pull away and take the time he needed. This picture is actually his second attack – he had already made one where Menchov had latched onto him, before he made off again for good. Also in the picture are Bernard Kohl in polka dots, who, fuelled on EPO Cera, rode to 3rd place, and Frank Schleck in yellow, who looked to be battling Cadel Evans for most of the race, seperated as they were by a single second at the key moments. It was Sastre, Schleck;s teammate, who would make the race winning attack on the “Hollywood” climb, however.

2009 Tour de France


The 2009 Tour was meant to be decided on the Ventoux, so here is an image from the blinding heat of that fabled mountain, with the three major protagonists of the race heading for the line. Andy Schleck struggles to get ahead of his yellow clad rival, as he had all race, whilst Contador looks barely bothered in his efforts. And yet the man that overshadowed them both, who they could not really shake politically or sportingly, lurks behind, casting his shadow across them and ensuring that he is in the story. For the 2009 Tour was more about Lance Armstrong then anything else, however much you want to spin it. His second comeback fired imaginations as the 1999 event had, and the nostalgia of the seven time champion returning, having been ever present in the background anyway for years, is neatly symbolised in this image.

2010 Tour de France


Chaingate, of course, for 2010. The defining moment of that Tour, more so then the duel on the Tourmalet, was when Andy Schleck attacked seemingly to distance Alberto Contador, before his chain fell off the chainrings to leave him stranded, as Contador surged past and away to the infamous 39 seconds of time gain that would eventually end up as the margin of victory for the Spaniard (until he was stripped of the title anyway). I’ve discussed the various connotations of that before at, but to surmise, the image clearly shows Contador could see the stricken Schleck, and that the Luxemburger had gapped him. So much hinged on this – Contador’s reputation, Schleck’s legacy and the notion of fair play.It’s a fitting illustration of an underrated Tour.

2011 Tour de France


A tale forged in the mountains, the 2011 Tour was entertaining throughout, and was decided on the mighty Galibier, where this picture was taken. It was tricky to choose this over an image of Andy Schleck winning the same stage, which would have symbolised much – the attacking, unpredicatble and epic nature of the racing that unfolded over the three weeks for one thing. However, this image, including three key men – Cadel Evans, Thomas Voecklet and Alberto Contador, is perhaps a better illustration. Evans, taking the lead and control of the group, is a metaphor for how he won that Tour – controlling his rivals and managing the time gaps to pick them off at the right time. Voeckler, clad in the yellow jersey it briefly looked like he very well might claim overall, hanging tough in terrain we never dreamed of seeing him ride in. Contador, who shouldn’t really have been there given his clenbuterol issue, still influencing things. It was a wonderful race, and this picture of the beautiful scenery framing the struggle of the riders works well to convey that.

2012 Tour de France


2012 was pitched as a fight between puncheurs and time triallists, with short, steep climbs meant to be balanced against long, flat power time trials. That didn’t really work given all the climbs were a long way from the finish, and so it was Bradley Wiggins (soon to be Knighted and to become Olympic Champion) who dominated by winning both time trials to crush his rivals. The row with Froome and his faux attack on La Touissuire threatened to overshadow his triumph, and I did consider an image of that, but the popularity of cycling in Britain ended up being so ruthlessly concentrated and focused onto one man, Wiggins, that this picture of him taking the second time trial and showing a first blast of emotion had to be the best illustration of the race.

2013 Tour de France


The Centenary edition of the race was built on a route designed to honour the history of the event, which included visits to Alpe d’Huez, Mount Ventoux and a first visit to Corsica. It was dominated by Sky’s Chris Froome from the moment he scooted away at Ax 3 Domaines, and you can thus take your pick of images of him in the yellow jersey against famous Parisian landmarks – Mont San Michel, Ventoux, Alpe d’Huez and the Arc deTriomphe. This picture of him ascending alone, having dropped Alberto Contador and passed Nairo Quintana, towards the iconic weather tower of the Ventoux encaspulates what the Tour had become – an international, globalised event (a British,Kenyan born rider on an Italian bicycle with Japanese components) that has bathed in its own history and nostalgia. Froome would win the time trial as well in a dominant performance.

2014 Tour de France


Vincenzo Nibali was a class above in the 2014 Tour, and this picture of his win at Chamrousse confirms that – alone at the summit, stylish and sleek as always. The first Italian winner since Pantani in 1998, Nibali’s fan club flag flies in the top left of the picture as well. The sun was shining on the Italian, and he would win a further two stages in equally dominant fashion to triumph by nearly eight minutes.

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